The red flag is when someone’s saying bad things about other’s is like — a hobby, or something. It’s hard to describe. But it’s very destructive.
I have a guess at what you’re trying to get at: that it’s when the person takes pleasure in relating bad things about others. Of course sometimes we have bad things to say about others, whether negative information to share for others’ benefit or negative feelings to vent. But there is a world of difference between, “I’m concerned Tom is stealing from the till” (relating information) and “That Tom is no good, and I bet you he’s been stealing from the till — mark my words” (reveling in a negative judgment of another’s character).
There’s various ways people demonstrate taking pleasure talking ill of others. Perhaps they allege these negative things about another in a tone of voice that is jovial and light, as if what they were saying were funny and they think you would be inclined to laugh. “Oh, you know how she is, always the spaz, ha ha.” Perhaps they use a tone of voice which is satisfied or triumphant, and they are crowing. “Didn’t I always say that he couldn’t handle the pressure. Goes to show!” Perhaps they use body language that is not that of someone saying something they’re upset about, but something they’re pleased about — they’re not frowning, they’re smirking; their eyebrows aren’t dropped in consternation, they’re raised in knowingness; they don’t sigh and speak slowly like one sad or hurt or confused, they wave their hands casually and rattle off words like machine gun bullets. They use witty putdowns, and seem to be very satisfied with the cleverness of their snark.
Or perhaps they say these things in a way which telegraphs that they intend it as a commiseration, expecting you to agree with them as a means of social bonding, the way people commiserate about bad weather. “The receptionist screw up your appointment, too? I don’t know she ever gets it right. I don’t know why they don’t hire someone who can read.” Stereotypes and *ist epithets often get used this way. “What do you expect from a ____ like that?”
Perhaps they don’t betray any pleasure-taking in words or voice or face or posture, but do the concern troll thing, where they’re terribly, terribly concerned about someone else’s faults… and its always someone different, and they seem to need to have someone to be so concerned about, and in fact never have anything to say except negative things about one person or another, to the point you can’t recall ever having had a conversation with them which they didn’t center on disparaging some absent third party.
All of these are ways that someone might betray that they enjoy “talking smack” about others. And someone who enjoys talking smack is usually not a great person to involve in one’s life, for all sorts of reasons from they’ll eventually talk that way about you to when the other people who know that this person talks smack is someone you’re hanging with, what do you think they’ll conclude about you and whether they want to be your friend? to do you want to fill your ears (and your perspective on others) with that kind of relentless negativity? to we become like whom we cleave to. It’s not going to make you kinder, more charitable of judgment, more patient with others, a better friend, or more socially adept to hang with someone who uses others for verbal target practice.
That sounds closer, yes.
That said, sometimes this can be misleading when you’re talking about abuse victims. People who’ve been abused often find it satisfying when other people dislike their abuser and notice the bad things they do. They also often find it satisfying to see the abuser fail to be accepted in communities, especially when that person’s access to an apparently safe community is a reason they trusted them.
That pattern can look similar to how people who just like to tear people down talk. It’s not the same, though, and someone feeling this way about an abuser isn’t a red flag about their ability to respect others.
My dear realsocialskills, I believe you have just put your finger on exactly why sexual abuse and assault victims receive the heart-breakingly familiar response they so often do, of being socially rejected, “Oh I don’t want to choose sides”, disbelief, and discrediting.
I mean, yes, sure, there’s all that stuff of wanting to believe the perp is a grand person, and It Couldn’t Happen Here We’re All Such Nice People and so forth.
But… most people can’t tell, can they? Some domestic violence victim starts talking about what happened behind closed doors, speaking with outrage of what was done to them, trying to convince other people that the perp doesn’t deserve their warm regard… and what they recognize it as is talking smack. Negativity. Trying to pull someone else down for purposes of personal satisfaction. So they put the person off. Their scripts for discouraging others from saying those sorts of things kick in, automatically.
I’m going to go think hard about this. I think it matters very much.
It gets really, really complicated. There’s a lot of thinking that needs to be done about this.